The 1798 and 1834 reading texts

Coleridge drafted the first version of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere (as it was then called) between November 1797 and March 1798, but subsequently kept tinkering with it. In his successive revisions from one text to another, Coleridge dropped some sixty lines and added (not necessarily as replacements) another twenty; removed most of the archaic spellings and words that were such a distinctive feature of the first published text in Lyrical Ballads(1798) and were much noticed, and universally disliked, by reviewers; dropped a prose Argument that was printed on a separate page before the beginning of the verse in the first two editions of Lyrical Ballads (1798 and 1800); made changes in the title and subtitle; altered the wording of the poem here and there all through the text; added a lengthy epigraph taken from a seventeenth century theological work in Latin by Thomas Burnet; and added fifty-eight explanatory and sometimes interpretative glosses in prose that were printed in the margins and sometimes beneath the verses in the first of his collections under his own name alone, Sybilline Leaves (1817). For a longer discussion of the various versions, click here.

The poem in its last revision is radically different from the earliest version. That first version is a relatively simple story of crime, punishment and partial redemption; the final version is a more elaborate multi-layered set of narratives, bringing out themes like the unity and sanctity of nature, original sin, social alienation, and the creative imagination, themes which were indeed present in the first version but often only implicitly so, but which are made more explicit in the glosses. Currently it is the final version, dating from 1834, when Coleridge was in his sixties, that is taken as the standard text for collections and anthologies, and is frequently though erroneously read as if it were the poem that Coleridge wrote in 1797-8 when he was in his middle twenties.

This website presents the poem in its first (1798) and final (1834) versions as reading texts with notes in a separate window.

Click here to read or download a pdf file showing the changes from 1798 to 1834.